Have Bike Will Travel

  • May 26, 2024

If you were to distill mechanized transportation down to its core essentials, you’d end up with something like the dirt bike – or its road-legal cousin, the dual-sport. Both are essentially the same bike, with the distinction being the dual sport has a headlight, turn signals and brake light – items easily added to a dirt bike so as to make it road-legal.

Neither are impeded by the absence of roads, which is part of their appeal. You can ride them across fields, up trails and through creeks. They can take you places not even the most lifted and geared-down 4×4 can go because a dirt bike or dual sport isn’t much wider than you are – except through the handlebars and they can be wriggled through tight spots such as two trees on either side of a trail.

Can’t do that with a 4×4.

And you can’t drag a 4×4 through a bad spot. Not without a winch and some other rig to do the dragging. But you (literally) can drag a bike through – or out of – a tough spot. Because a dirt bike/dual sport typically weighs less than 300 pounds.

That’s not all you can do, either.

Put another way, there’s not much you need to do – and here we come to the elemental virtue of the dirt bike/dual sport motorcycle. Most of them are powered by a single cylinder engine so there’s just one spark plug that occasionally needs to be changed and (typically) 2 quarts of oil once or twice a year. The simplest of them don’t have cooling systems, per se – being cooled by the airflow over the engine rather than liquid coolant flowing through a radiator. So long as you keep the engine’s cooling fins free of caked-on mud and keep the oil topped off, the engine should always run cool enough.

Until the last several years, most did not have computers. Instead, they had carburetors. These are simple, mechanical fuel-metering devices that don’t require a computer – or electronics of any kind – as electronic fuel injection does. There is no electric fuel pump, either as it’s not needed. The gas is fed to the carb by gravity, with a manual valve to turn the flow off and on. There is thus much less to go wrong – and it is much easier to figure out what’s wrong, when the bike’s not running right. If there’s gas in the tank – and it’s not bad – and the spark plug sparks then you’ve isolated the problem to the carb, which is easily fixed.

Because there’s very little to fix.

Which also means there’s very little that could go wrong in the first place, which is perhaps the greatest virtue of simplicity when it comes to mechanical things. The same is true of the rest of the bike, including its ignition system, which consists chiefly of a coil to fire the plug and the wire that goes from the coil to the plug. Most dirt bikes/dual sports don’t have starters. They have kickers. You start the bike – by turning the engine over, yourself.

You can even change tires – yourself – with some basic hand tools. (While it’s possible to change a four-wheeled vehicle’s tires by hand, it is not easy and it is doubtful you’d be able to do it out in the woods, without specialized tools.)

But – given the times – the small-engined dirt bike/dual-sport’s chief virtue is how far it can take you on very little fuel.

A dirt bike/dual sport with a 250 cc single cylinder engine will generally go about 80-100 miles on a gallon of gas. And they are capable of reaching and maintaining highway speeds (though if fitted with off-road tires, the tires will wear out fast if you ride on the highway; the upside is the tires are cheap relative to tires for cars and never mind 4x4s.)

Some of the smaller cc bikes can go even farther on a gallon of fuel.

Nothing on four wheels can match the range-per-gallon of a small-engined dirt bike or dual sport. And if the cost of a gallon of gas triples, the only way you’ll be able to afford to travel 80-100 miles (except by foot) may be via a dirt bike or dual sport.

Put another way: If you don’t already live within walking distance of a city, a dirt bike or dual sport may be the only way to avoid being herded into a city by the forces congealing to do exactly that to most of us – by rendering the cost of driving too expensive for most of us and by restricting how far and how often we can drive by tethering our vehicles to electrical cords that are in turn tethered to a single, centralized power source over which we have no control.

A dirt bike/dual sport bike cuts that cord. And a dirt bike or dual sport cannot be remotely controlled or tracked because it isn’t “connected,” as all new vehicles are (not just the battery-powered devices, either).

And unlike almost anything on four wheels, a dirt bike/dual sport can usually be paid for in cash at the time of purchase because it doesn’t take much cash to buy one. Even brand new, few cost more than about $7,000 and that’s on the high end. Used ones cost half that or less, which means almost anyone can afford one.

Given the times – especially the ones just ahead – it might prove to be the case that not having one is what many of us can’t afford to risk.

. . .

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